JN VERSITY OF CAL FORNIA. SAN DIEGO
Central University Library
University of California, San Diego
Please Note: This item is subject to recall.
JUN 06 t99b
Cl 39 (7/93)
A t^e A *-
Central University Library
University of California, San Diego
Please Note: This item is subject to recall.
AUG 1 1995
Cl 39 (7/93)
THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
ELLEN CONROY, M.A.
"Speak to the earth and it shall teach you." JOB.
WILLIAM RIDER & SON, LIMITED
8 PATERNOSTER ROW, E.G. 4
1. COLOUR A TRUE SYMBOL . . . . .1
2. THE OLD LANGUAGE OP RED . . . .6
3. THE OLD LANGUAGE OP YELLOW . . . .14
4. THE OLD LANGUAGE OF GREEN . . . .21
5. THE OLD LANGUAGE OP BLUE . . . .27
6. THE OLD LANGUAGE OP PURPLE . . . .36
7. THE OLD LANGUAGE OF WHITE . . . .40
8. THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLACK . . . .46
9. THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BROWN AND GREY . . 50
10. THE OLD LANGUAGE OF THE RAINBOW . . .53
1. SCHOOLS OF COLOUR 61
2. THE COLOURS OF THE PLANETS . . .62
3. CHROMATICS OF THE SKY . . . .64
4. YELLOW . . . . . . . . 64
5. COLOUR AND FORM 65
6. THE GROWTH OF PLANTS UNDER COLOURED RAYS 65
THE SYMBOLISM OF
COLOUR A TRUE SYMBOL
" The great below clenched by the great above." E. B. B.
" GOD made the country ; man made the town," says
William Cowper, and almost everyone will agree
that it is the deprivation of the colour of the
country that makes our towns so sadly depressing,
for nearly all people appreciate colour, though perhaps
in a general way. They realise that colour helps to
beautify the world.
Other people, however, look upon colour as one of
the greatest joys in life. The colour of the woods,
the flowers, the sunrise, and the sunset are sources
of the very deepest emotion, exalting them above
mere interest in external things into the very
highest realms of vision and beauty. The colours
of an artist like Titian make them realise the joy
of living. Even the word-pictures of the poets do
the same, so that they become firm believers in the
2 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
poetic fallacy that what is beautiful in nature reflects
what is beautiful in the mind of man. Thus Buddha
watching the sun rise seems to clothe Nature with
his own luminous soul, which is striving to make a
new age begin on the earth.
Edwin Arnold, in his Light of Asia, tells us that
the Buddha rose just before the False Dawn and
" Watching the sleeping earth with ardent eyes
And thoughts embracing all its living things ;
While o'er the waving fields that murmur moves
Which is the kiss of Morn waking the lands,
And in the East that miracle of Day
Gathered and grew. At first a dusk so dim
Night seems still unaware of whispered dawn,
But soon before the jungle-cock crows twice
A wlute_jerge clear, a widening, brightening white,
High as the herald star, which fades in floods
Of silver, warming into pale gold, caught
By topmost clouds, and flaming~on their rims
To fervent golden glow, flashed from the brink
With saffron, scarlet, crimson, amethyst ;
Whereat the sky turns splendid to the blue,
And, robed in raiment of glad light, the King
Of Life and Glory cometh."
As we read the passage the whole scene arises
before us, of the lonely watcher and the glorious
Eastern sky. In other versions of the same event,
whoever, we have more definite teaching concerning
these beautiful sunrise hues. The Buddha plays his
vina and the colour of the sky changes according to
his seven notes yellow, blue, violet, green, pink,
COLOUR A TRUE SYMBOL 3
white, and cream ; not colours given by chance, but
of deep esoteric meaning.
Did we but know it, no doubt the seven strings
on the lute of Apollo had once the same significance ;
and though we know these seven strings had other
meanings as well, yet we must not therefore dismiss
our theory, for " Is not God able to say many things
in one ? " That is the whole essence of the under-
standing of symbolism, that there are planes of
There has always existed a belief in the essential
connection between colour and sound. That is why
in everyday language we say " a colour clashes " or
"a colour harmonises" both terms from the sister
art of music. The scientist has now worked out this
connection, 1 so that we have the following facts :
Vibrations per second.
A tenor voice produces ..... 400
Red light . . 400,000,000,000,000
A soprano voice ..... 700
Violet light . . 700,000,000,000,000
Thus light gives a finer vibration than sound to
the extent of a million million times, and this is one
reason why, when the mind is so tired that even
music seems wearisome, it can be healed by means
of colour. Professor Wallace Rimington of King's
College made a colour organ in which colours were
thrown on a screen when the organ was played.
1 Dr Mount Bleyer of New York invented the vibrograph to
give the connection between colour and sound.
4 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
Few people recognise that colours are powers,
forces, vitalities, and vibrations. 1 Yet such they are,
and on the physical plane we are now learning to
enlist them in all kinds of occupations, as varied
as that of the physician, the gardener, the brewer,
and the baker. Every year we are finding out more
clearly how we can use these vibrations for the
benefit of man. Every year new hospitals are being
opened for colour healing. Every year we are find-
ing out how we can obtain better crops by means of
the application of coloured rays. 2 The meteorologist 3
has taken up the colour of the sky as an indication
of weather, and is making exhaustive tabulation of
facts in order to make more definite the lore which
we learnt as children in such rhymes as :
" Evening red and morning grey
Sets the traveller on his way ;
Evening grey and morning red
Brings down rain upon his head."
When we think of colours and read into them
some of the wonderful truths with which they have
been associated for many centuries, we are astonished
to find that there is a direct correspondence between
the value apportioned to a colour on the physical
plane and the value given symbolically. Swedenborg
was continually insisting that there was no true
symbolism without a direct correspondence. Thus,
if we take the lions at the base of Nelson's column
1 See Appendix V.
2 See Appendix VI. 3 See Appendix III.
COLOUR A TRUE SYMBOL 5
and substitute any other animals, our minds would
be instinctively offended. Why ? Because Nelson
and his men had in them the same quality or
qualities that we associate with the lion.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning grips this great truth
and expresses it in her poem of Aurora Leigh :
" Verily I was wrong,
And verily many thinkers of this age,
Ay, many Christian teachers, half iu heaven,
Are wrong in just my sense, who understand
Our natural world too insularly, as if
No spiritual counterpart completed it,
Consummating its meaning, rounding all
To justice and perfection, line by line,
Form by form, nothing single or alone ;
The great below clenched by the great above."
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BED
" The Holy Grail, rose-red, with beatings in 't, as if alive."
CONSIDERING first the colour red as being the lowest
in the spectrum, how is this correspondence manifest ?
Red is the colour of the blood ; hence, is it surpris-
ing that red is the colour denoting life and action,
cheerfulness and enthusiasm ? Red is used by healers
as a powerful stimulant and tonic, thus it has the
meaning of health and vigour. This is why nearly
all red stones are said to have health-giving and
disease-preventing properties. The ruby in China
and Japan is said to give long life, health, and
happiness. All the imperial decrees of China have
to be written or printed in red as a sign that there
is the power behind to force them to be carried
out. Children's clothing must contain some part of
red. Usually this consists of a piece of red material
twisted together with a pig's-tail, thus making a
talisman of great power against sickness.
In India and Persia the garnet is said to bring deep,
abiding health to its possessor. The Romans used
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF RED 7
the red coral as a talisman to protect their children
from all manner of diseases ; while in India, China,
and Japan it is used to-day as a safeguard against
cholera. The red carnelian was used by the Hebrews
to prevent attacks of plague, and in China it is worn
to prevent stomach troubles.
Again, we find the healthy man is inclined to be
more cheerful than the sickly man; so we instinct-
ively think of Mr Greatheart as a man with rosy
cheeks. The garnet has nearly always been said
to bestow the gift of cheerfulness upon its wearer.
Then we find that the healthy man is usually
more courageous and daring than the weakling ;
hence red often means courage. In fact, the lack
of red in the face is taken as a sign of the lack of
courage as in Macbeth, where the page-boy is told :
"Go prick thy face and over-red thy fear,
Thou lily-livered boy."
Courage was said to be the gift of Mars, the god
of war; hence red is the colour of war, whether in
its most barbaric, cruel form or in its chivalrous
Astrologers assign this colour to the planet Mars
from its symbolic value, and not merely because Mars
looks red in the heavens. Mr Alan Leo writes thus :
" The planet Mars, which is known by its red colour, is
said to be hot and exhaustive in its influence. It presides
over all adventure, enterprise, and heroic acts. It makes
the mind daring, combative, courageous, fearless, and
venturesome. In everything where pluck, force, and
8 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
energy are required, the Mars man will be foremost. He
will be first in any acts of bravery, and often regardless
of his life and of the consequences of any noble act where
courage is required."
So it is that the brave man is known as the man
of self-sacrifice. Thus the colour of red takes on this
added meaning of self-sacrifice, sorrow, or suffering,
which at first seem contradictory meanings to those
of enthusiasm, life, and cheerfulness.
In art the martyrs are often clothed in red as a
sign that they have suffered, and also as a sign that
they had the enthusiasm for the cause, so that the
sorrows and cruelties they endured were accounted
by them nothing ; for red is pre-eminently the colour
of enthusiasm, of the fire which inspires a man to
fight his way through all obstacles or perish in the
attempt. It is thus most fitting that Moses should
receive his life. work when near the burning bush,
which is surely the most appropriate symbol of the
quality necessary before one can become the leader of
a nation or change it from one of slaves to one of
freemen. Red is the colour of the leader, the colour
of the kingly robes. 1 Then we may remember that
pretty legend of the Christmas Rose, when the
shepherd's little daughter, having no other gift to
offer the infant Christ, gave him a fragrant white
rose, which was no sooner touched by the Babe than
it became a deep glorious red, emblematic of his
1 In ancient Wales red robes showed honourable rank.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF RED 9
Red is also the colour of the flame of love. As
Robert Burns sings gaily :
" Oh, my Love is like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June."
Perhaps you remember that picture of Rossetti
called " Dante's Dream." where Beatrice lies cold and
still, clad in white, while Love is seen clothed in
rose-red robes leading Dante to her side:
" Then Love said, ' Now shall all things be made clear ;
Come and behold our lady where she lies.'"
Based on very much the same thought there was
an old legend that a red carbuncle was placed at the
prow of Noah's ark to give light and guidance.
This legend no doubt grew out of the appropriateness
of red as a symbol for the burning love that directed
the boat and brought it safely to Ararat, and also
from the fact that the carbuncle gives off a faint
phosphorescent glow in the dark. Psychics see this
very clearly indeed, but it is visible also to persons
of normal vision.
Among nearly all primitive nations red berries,
such as those of the mountain ash, symbolise the
Spirit of God. They have been called by such names
as "holy seed" or " fructifying honey dew."
In front of the high altar of a church or cathedral
is seen the red lamp burning perpetually as a sign
of the deep, intense, sacrificial, all-enduring love of
The communion wine also partakes of this mystic
10 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
symbolism, when the joy, the fervour, and the uplift
of the spiritual life is imparted to man. There is a
beautiful passage in Tennyson's " Holy Grail," when
this mystic cup is seen by Sir Percival's sister floating
down into her convent cell on a shaft of silver light,
making wondrous melody in its passage :
" And down the long beam stole the Holy Grail,
Rose-red with beatings in 't, as if alive,
Till all the white walls of my cell were dyed
With rosy colours leaping on the wall ;
And then the music faded, and the Grail
Passed, and the beam decayed, and from the walls
The rosy quiverings died into the night."
Or we may like to call to mind the esoteric order of
Rosicrucians, in which all the glorious symbolism of
the Rose and the Cross blended.
Or again, we may think of the red carnelian buckle
of Isis which was attached to the neck of the deceased
while these words were chanted :
"The blood of Isis, and the strength of Isis, and the
words of power of Isis shall be mighty to act as powers to
protect this great and divine being, and to guard him from
him that would do unto him anything that he holdeth in
You will find that in all symbolism there is an
exalted meaning given to the symbol and a debased
meaning ; e.g. a dog may mean all that is noble and
full of devotion, or it may give the meaning of all
that is mean, low, and despicable.
In the case of red it may, as we have seen, be the
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF RED 11
sign of the sublime, strong love of the Creator ; but
at the same time it can refer to debased love and
carnal passion, i.e. love without the sacrificial ele-
ment. Thus we have in Revelation xvi. 3 "the
great red dragon who seeks to destroy the woman
clothed with the sun," i.e. the woman or soul who
is clothed with the Sun of Righteousness. The
dragon is frustrated in his attempt by Michael, whose
name means " Like unto God," for what is ignoble
must ever yield to the noble.
Sometimes red may be used as a sign of exuberant
animal spirits, e.g. in the expression " to paint the
Lastly, let us remember that the name Adam means
red, and so he symbolises man unregenerate, i.e. of
the earth, earthy.
Perhaps it would be wise to consider the colour
pink next. Pink is hardly a colour so much as a
tint ; but as it has a definite symbolism, I have placed
it next to red. It is a most useful colour in healing.
In the human aura it often denotes the healer.
Certainly in its esoteric meaning it denotes the man
who wishes to use his life for the healing of others,
and the man who receives inspiration how he can
help to uplift humanity. Unfortunately, our poets
do not often use the word because of its ugly sound.
When Buddha sat under his Bo-tree (Ficus
religiosa) to meditate how he could save the world,
it is said that his whole body became enveloped in
12 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
a most radiant blush-rose colour. Edwin Arnold
describes this scene :
" There flew
High overhead that hour five Holy Ones
Whose free wings faltered as they passed the tree.
' What power superior draws us from our flight ? '
They asked, for spirits feel all force divine,
And know the sacred presence of the pure.
Then looking downward, they beheld the Buddh
Crowned with a rose-hued aureole, intent
On thoughts to save ; while from the grove a voice
Cried, ' Rishis ! this is he shall help the world.
Descend and worship.' So the Bright Ones came
And sang a song of praise, folding their wings ;
Then journeyed on, taking good news to God."
The colour pink is said to be the esoteric colour of
the mystic number five, which is the number of
power, inspiration, and love-healing; e.g. five is the
number of points in King Solomon's seal, which was
a talisman of power and inspiration. The Pool of
Bethesda, we may remember, had five porches, and it
was there that the sick were healed. We see from
this connection that similar truths are wrapped up
in other groups of symbols. In fact, we find that
whether we take colours, or numbers, or trees, or
animals, or mountains, or rivers, we learn the same
deep truths. The mystics knew that each was an
expression of the heavenly mind :
" Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes." 1
1 E. B. B., Aurora Leigh.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF RED 13
Carlyle used pink in its debased sense when he
speaks "of the rose-pink hue of sentimentality,"
meaning a hue that lacks full virility.
When we come to the colour orange, however, we
find that the ancients hardly ever refer to it. If it
had very much red in it, it came under the symbolism
of red. If it had very much yellow in it, then the
symbolism of yellow was considered to embrace it.
They did not know it as a primary colour.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF YELLOW
" Into the yellow of the Rose Eternal . . .
Me Beatrice drew." DANTE.
YELLOW is one of the most interesting colours. Being
the colour of the sun, all the attributes of the sun
were given to it.
Like red it was considered a masculine colour,
while green, blue, and violet were thought of as
feminine. Like red, too, it is used by healers as a
tonic. As it is of such healing value to the brain,
we are not surprised to find that amber has been
used as an antidote to insanity. Yellow stones are
said to bring happiness to their owners, for yellow
was said to be the colour of unity unity in affec-
tion, unity with the spiritual powers of the universe,
unity with the Sun of Righteousness who comes with
healing in his wings.
This old meaning of the colour yellow was well
known .and understood in the old Roman Catholic
Church. Therefore Dante, who wrote much of his
great Divine Comedy consciously or unconsciously
to interpret these old ideas and to enshrine them in
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF YELLOW 15
poetry for evermore, says when he has reached the
highest part of heaven and is once more with
"Into the yellow of the Rose Eternal . . .
Me Beatrice drew."
The Pope (on the fourth Sunday in Lent) presents
a golden rose of jewels to any person greatly beloved
by the Church.
One can notice in the world at present a deep and
increasing love for all yellow colours, 1 for it is a colour
that gives the appearance of sunlight to the most
cheerless rooms. May we not also hope that it is a
sign that the world is now striving after unity, and
the desire to understand the other person's point
of view ?
The yellow robe donned by the Buddhist is a
symbol that he is now on the path that is to lead
to spirituality. The Light of Asia tells us that
Buddha taught his supreme truths " to his own, them
of the yellow robe." He taught them to practise
"yoga." What is "yoga"? To the Western mind
it usually means a kind of magic even charlatanism,
but the real meaning of the word is "union." The
belief of these yellow-robed men is that they have
within them a spark of the Godhead, and that, by
suppressing the bodily desires and by concentrating
their whole mental and psychic energies towards
trying to understand this higher part of their nature,
1 See Appendix IV.
16 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
they will become united with the Supreme Spirit
and will understand how to do many things and
see many things that the ordinary man cannot do
Vishnu is clad in yellow for the same reason. In
the vision of Ezekiel, God is seen in the colour amber ;
at least, the amber colour is the outward sign of the
presence of God.
In the ceremony of making a child become a
Brahmin a piece of saffron cloth is bound to his
arm with a yellow cord. The Mexicans gave the
name Kan to the god who supported the sky. The
same word meant yellow.
Yellow is the royal colour of China, and the
privilege of wearing yellow is most jealously guarded,
for does it not show that its possessor is a Son of
the Sun ? Similarly the saffron robes of the ancient
Irish nobility were a sign of their rank.
Yellow is the marriage colour in India, and the
bride stains her hands yellow as a sign of the
happiness and unity she expects in her married life.
The Roman bride wore a crocus-coloured veil and
yellow shoes. Among the Jews marriage may be per-
formed under the Talis, an orange silk robe stretched
on four posts. The bride and her maids walk round
it seven times, which is said to be in memory of the
siege of Jericho.
It might also be noted, in Calderon's picture of
Ruth and Naomi, that Ruth, who wishes ever
to be with Naomi, wears a yellow robe perhaps
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF YELLOW 17
by chance, perhaps by design, or perhaps by
Among the Mayas and Egyptians the great serpent
of the universe (who symbolises Eternity and Wisdom)
was said to be blue in colour but to have yellow
scales. In China the golden cock proclaims the dawn.
The golden hawk, the golden eagle, the golden ass, 1
and the golden calf were all symbols of deity.
Athena, who represented union with the mind of
Zeus, had a robe called the " peplus," a crocus-coloured
garment with figures woven into it of the gods con-
quering the giants. It was suspended to the mast of
a ship when it was to be carried in procession, being
too holy to be carried by hands.
The mundane egg which is to be met with in nearly
all ancient religions, whether of India, Egypt, Phoenicia,
Japan, or the South Sea Islands, was said to have
been a golden one that is, it represents the sun or
deity. Probably our children's tale of the goose that
lays the golden eggs is a survival of one of these
We must remember, too, that the colour of gold
not only partook of the meaning of the colour yellow,
but also of the symbolism of the metal gold, which
is the metal of the sun. Thus the colour began to
mean all that was pure, all that had been refined,
and hence glory and wisdom. Thus the halo of saints
and of God is often made of gold leaf. Similarly
1 Read the Golden Ass of Apuleius, where the hero only regains
his real shape by eating roses, wliich are symbols of prayer.
the gates and doors of heaven are nearly always
represented as being of gold.
We may remember, too, that among the emblems
attached to St John are the eagle and the River Pison.
This River Pison is mentioned in Genesis as flowing
through Havilah, where there is much gold. It
therefore became the river of inspiration and the
wisdom of God; and since St John received the
greatest vision, it was considered his most appro-
The ladder which Jacob saw in his dream at Bethel
or the House of God is described by Dante as being
of gold :
" I saw reared up,
In colour like to sun-illumined gold,
A ladder, which my ken pursued in vain,
So lofty was the summit."
For it is by the ladder of wisdom that we attain
wisdom and receive inspiration.
The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood made it their par-
ticular joy to replace this beautiful symbolism into
art. Thus Dante Gabriel Rossetti speaks very beauti-
fully in "The Blessed Damozel" of a golden thread
of life that is woven into the robes of the spirits
who arrive in the next world after having lived
during earth life in unity with God:
" We two, she said, will seek the groves
Where the Lady Mary is,
With her five handmaidens, whose names
Are five great symphonies :
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF YELLOW 19
Cecily, Gertrude, Magdalen,
Margaret and Rosalys.
Circle-wise sit they with bound locks
And bosoms covered,
Weaving the golden thread
To fashion the birth-robes for them
Who are just born, being dead."
This golden thread is spoken of by the mystic
" I give you the end of a golden string,
Only wind it into a ball ;
It will lead you in at heaven's gate,
Built in Jerusalem's wall."
The Greeks also had a legend of a golden thread by
which Jupiter drew up souls to heaven. Here we
might mention the Golden Bough given to ^neas in
order that he may visit the dead and yet retain his
life (jEneid, bk. vi. 29).
In the Kalevala, the great Finnish epic, Ilmater is
" Ancient daughter of Creation,
Come in all thy golden beauty."
And as Ilmater stands for wisdom, we are not sur-
prised that Ecclesiasticus should say, "Get wisdom,
and get much gold by her." So also Keats writes :
" Much have I travelled in the realms of gold."
In Babbit's book on colour there is an illustration
of the aura seen round the head of a man. Above
the top part of the head is seen the colour yellow.
Now, the phrenologist locates this as the seat of
20 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
spirituality ; thus we see that once more two studies
agree in their conclusions. Yellow was thus to the
ancients the greatest of all the colours, and had the
most exalted meaning.
It is perhaps to be expected, then, that in its
degraded meaning it is the saddest of all colours,
for we recognise the deceitful Judas very often in
ancient pictures from the fact that he is given dingy
yellow robes. The Jews in Venice formerly had to
wear yellow hats, to show the scorn in which the
Venetians held them. Yellow is the colour of decay-
ing vegetable life, of the poorness of life. Thus it
means separation instead of unity.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF GREEN
" Hope rules a land for ever green." WORDSWORTH.
" HOPE rules a land for ever green," says Wordsworth.
He means a land where nothing dies, for green is
the colour of plant life, the colour of spring and
of all that is fresh and young and joyous.
When looking at Watts' picture of Hope, we see
that she sits almost like a picture of Despair, but
she is trying to obtain music from her one last
string. We notice that the green Watts uses is
of a particularly hard, bluish character, so unlike
the joyous green of spring. When Rossetti in
"Dante's Dream" depicts the two maidens lifting
the veil from the face of Beatrice, we notice what
a full rich green he uses for their robes, for he
wishes to make his colour proclaim the fact that
he feels no despair, but a sublime Hope and Faith
which will go with him until the time that Beatrice
will draw him into the " yellow of the Rose Eternal."
Shelley understood that green meant hope and
gladness, for he wrote:
" Many a green isle needs must be
In the deep, wide sea of Misery,
22 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
Or the mariner worn and wan
Never thus could journey on
Day and night, and night and day,
Drifting on his weary way,
With the solid darkness black
Closing round his vessel's track :
Whilst above, the sunless sky
Big with clouds hangs heavily ;
And behind, the tempest fleet,
Hurries on with lightning feet,
Riving sail, and cord, and plank,
Till the ship has almost drank
Death from the o'er-brimming deep,
And sinks down, down, like that sleep
When the dreamer seems to be
Weltering through eternity."
Among the ancient Druids of Wales, green was
the colour of the robes of the " ovates," that is, the
men who were hoping to become bards or Druids
The colour green was used by the people of the
East with a much deeper significance, however.
The Hindoos said that Om, the Sun, drove across
the sky in a chariot drawn by a green horse with
seven heads, and preceded by Aruna, the Dawn.
As we have no green horses in nature, the state-
ment must be highly symbolic. Horses are always
a sign of knowledge. 1 In the old Hindoo zodiacs,
instead of the constellation Aries or the Ram,
1 Cf. Sanskrit "harit" = (l) a horse, (2) the light, bright,
shining. Cf. Pegasus, the winged horse of the Muses, in poetical
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF GREEN 23
we often have a horse. Aries is the sign govern-
ing the head or "mentality. The horse is used
in exactly the same way. The number seven
means what is complete in both body and spirit,
for it contains the basic four (which is the number
of man, who has to perfect his fourfold nature
body, mind, soul, and spirit), and also it contains
the three, which is the perfection of the Trinity,
for every great religion has contained a Trinity.
Thus we see that seven refers to perfection in all
things, whether of heaven or of earth. What, then,
do we mean by a seven-headed green horse ? This
that the knowledge and wisdom of Om are eternal,
everlasting, all-enduring, and that they comprehend
the whole universe.
In Palestine St George is sometimes called "the
everlasting green one," for the fight between good
and evil is never-ending, but to the true St George
the victory is ever assured.
Time was addressed by the Egyptians as the
"everlasting green one," for the main experiences
of life are the same to everyone, whether born
now or hundreds of years ago. External circum-
stances alter, but each person has the same lessons
to learn. The Fortunate Isles of the Greeks and
the Islands of the Blessed of the North American
Indians are said to have been green. Nearly all
evergreen plants were considered especially sacred.
Edgar Allan Poe addressed his love as
"A green isle in the sea."
24 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
The Hindoos say that the emerald gives the gift
of knowledge and memory. It also gives the ability
to tell the future, even as the green laurel tree of
Apollo did. The emerald also confers immortality
on the soul, and enables it to gain faith. This belief
will surely explain why greenstone amulets are so
common in the tombs of the Egyptians, for faith
would bring them safely to the Fields of Peace,
where immortality was enjoyed.
Isis, the goddess of the crescent moon, which often
mystically means the pure soul, is sometimes called
the "Lady of the Emerald" that is, she whose
soul is pure enough to gain immortality.
When Pizarro went to Mexico he found that a
goddess there was worshipped as the Goddess of
The emerald is often seen on the breastplates of
Pallas and of Minerva, for both these goddesses
stand for the Divine mind the all-enduring Wisdom.
The Virgin Mary is often represented clothed in a
green mantle and standing on the crescent moon.
She has faith and hope until the Day-star awakes
in her heart. The walls of the New Jerusalem are
seen by John in Revelation to be made of jasper.
The New Jerusalem, like the Ark and the Temple,
is said by mystics to be a soul symbol ; hence, how
appropriate that the green jasper should be the
material of which it is said to be made ! Among
the Chinese, Tao is said to have been miraculously
born of "the excellent Virgin of Jasper."
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF GREEN 25
Green is sometimes said to be the colour of the
planet Mercury, 1 which is the planet governing
the mind and conferring knowledge knowledge
not only of the kind essential to material success,
but also inspirational knowledge and celestial wisdom.
The god Mercury had assigned to him nearly all
the main attributes of Hermes, just as Hermes in
the same way received the main characteristics of
Thot and his companion Anubis. The "green hill
of Anubis," where the good souls were directed, is
the hill of everlasting life and of Eternal Wisdom.
Thot also had green hills dedicated to him. It is
probably due to the Phoenicians that we have place
names perpetuating this fact, e.g. Toot's Hill in
Epping Forest, Tothill Street, Tooting, and Tewkes-
bury. In Christian times the archangel Michael
was given the work and attributes of these gods;
and surely it is marvellous the number of hills and
rocks sacred to St Michael, while in ancient pictures
we often see him conducting the souls of the departed
to the green hill of Zion.
When we think of the great gifts symbolised by
green, how full of meaning seems the green turban
of the Mohammedan who has visited Mecca ! We
can also realise what great truths could have been
taught, and no doubt were, in the " Green Schools " 2
of the Persian sufis.
Green in its degraded sense gives us "the green-
1 See Appendix II. 2 See Appendix I.
26 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
eyed monster jealousy," which is the direct opposite
of celestial wisdom, for jealousy is always due to
the intrusion of the desires of the self, while celestial
wisdom wishes to give rather than to receive. The
colour green is often said to forebode death. This
idea may be a survival of the ancient worship of
Mercury, and even of St Michael l in Christian times,
both of whom were messengers of death.
1 See picture of St Michael presenting taper of death to the
Virgin (Fra Filippo Lippi).
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLUE
" Blue, 'tis the colour of heaven ! " KEATS.
IN the spectrum we ought to be able to recognise both
blue and indigo, though many people find difficulty
in recognising the indigo ray. Blue belongs to the
cooling end of the spectrum, and thus it is right and
fitting that symbolically it should be the colour of
Truth, which is the result of calm reflection and
never of heated argument. Even in everyday
language we speak of "true-blue."
Blue is the colour of the heavens that is, blue is
the colour of the abode of God :
"Then went up Moses, and Aaron, and Nadab, and
Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ; and they saw the
God of Israel : and there was under his feet as it were a
paved work of sapphire stone, and as it were the very
heaven for clearness." 1
Ezekiel has very much the same vision, not because
he copied from an older version, but because it is
given to every great seer to realise for himself
any real basic truth, such as that God dwells in
Truth. Clairvoyant visions often repeat themselves
1 Exodus xxiv. 9-11.
28 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
to different people in different countries and in
" And above the firmament that was over their heads
was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire
stone : and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness
as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as
the colour of amber." l
A. wonderful vision truly that within Truth dwells
the amber of unity and the divine Spirit.
The Egyptian judges wore a breastplate of blue
covered with symbolic figures. The blue was to show
that they would reverence truth in their judgments
and not stoop to bribery.
Moses was commanded to make the robe of the
ephod of blue, and on the skirts of it were to be
pomegranates of blue. This was to symbolise that
the true priest of God was to abound in Truth not
in mere facts and formalities. Truth is ever greater
than mere facts. Facts may sometimes give the
appearance of an untruth, but Truth is ever one and
indivisible. As said previously, it contains unity.
Again Moses was commanded to
" Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that
they make them fringes in the borders of their garments,
throughout their generations, and that they put upon the
fringe of the borders a ribband of blue . . . that ye may
remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto
your God." 2
Here we might mention that the Rabbins considered
that blue was the colour of the two stones on which
1 Ezekiel i. 26. 2 Numbers xv. 38.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLUE 29
the Commandments were written. Plato tells us
that the robes of the priests of Atlantis were blue.
The Buddhists say, " Sapphire produces peace of
mind and equanimity. It chases out evil thoughts
by establishing healthy circulation. It opens barred
doors to the spirit. It produces a desire for prayer.
It brings peace, but he who would wear it must lead
a pure and holy life."
Surely, if all this is true, it is almost essential that
we should follow the advice of colour healers and
have our ceilings always of blue.
Blue is often called the colour of devotion, but we
must remember that devotion is not an end in itself ;
it is the striving after eternal Truth and Wisdom
So much did the Hindoos think of the colour that
their gods are addressed by the epithet " narayan,"
and they are said to be born of the sea which ever
reflects the blue of heaven. In Egypt the gods were
often painted blue to show their heavenly origin ; e.g.
Kneph the Creator, the great Mind, wears blue rpbes.
Mummies were shrouded in blue beads to show that
they were united with the soul of Truth.
Odin, the wise All-Father of the Scandinavians, is
nearly always spoken of as wearing blue robes. The
blue pines near the homes of Philemon and Baucis
were sacred to Jupiter. Sin, the Assyrian god, is
said to have had a blue beard. Our conception of
blue beard has taken on the debased meaning of
30 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
Isis is often called the Lady of the Turquoise,
while Osiris is god of the turquoise and the lapis
lazuli. The Virgin Mary is often clad in a blue robe,
for the same reason that she is often represented as
standing by the Well of Truth, as in Arthur Hacker's
" Annunciation." The Hindoo Mariama is addressed
as " Holy Nari Mariama, mother of perpetual
In both Mexico and Chaldea blue was worn as
mourning, being a token of the joy that the soul
realised in the Fields of Peace.
The turquoise and the lapis lazuli seem to have
had in them the two blues that appealed most to the
ancients. In the " Burden of Isis " we have these
words in praise of Osiris, who is identified with the
spirit of the departed :
"With turquoise is thy hair twined, and with lapis
lazuli, the finest of lapis lazuli. Lo, the lapis lazuli is
above thy hair."
There is another similar incantation in the Festival
Songs of Isis and Nephthys :
"Thy hair is like turquoise as thou comest from the
Fields of Turquoise ; thy hair is like unto the finest of lapis
lazuli, and thou thyself art more blue than thy hair. Thy
skin and body are like southern alabaster, aud thy bones
are of silver. The perfume of thy hair is like unto new
myrrh, and thy skull is of lapis lazuli."
Since hair is not blue, the statement must be
symbolic, and means that the spirit of the departed
has now become one with Eternal Truth.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLUE 31
Surely we cannot read the above passages without
thinking of the Song of Solomon, where the bride-
groom is compared to " bright ivory overlaid with
There is another such song in praise of Amen-Ra :
" Praise to Amen-Ra,
To the bull of Heliopolis, to the chief of all the gods,
To the beautiful and beloved god,
Who giveth life by all manner of warmth,
By all manner of fair cattle.
Amen, bull fair of face,
Beloved in Thebes ;
He fashioneth earth, the silver and the gold,
Real lapis lazuli for those who love him."
The same imagery is used by the Buddhists.
When Buddha sat under the Bo-tree on his throne
of knowledge, all truths were revealed to him. To
symbolise this we are told that he saw the great white
cosmic umbrella, and also the Fields of Lapis Lazuli,
where all the preceding Buddhas dwelt in ecstasy :
" He hath o'erthrown the flag of pride,
He hath obtained the triple knowledge.
The King of Physicians
With his heavenly Amrita l
Will dull all human pain
And lead all flesh to Nirvana.
Having entered the City of Omniscience,
And become one with the Buddhas,
He is now indivisible."
1 Amrita, bread of life.
32 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
This last word gives us the key to the whole
situation that in the Fields of Lapis Lazuli there
dwell the pure spirits who have become the soul of
Truth, inseparable from Divine Truth, indivisible
from the Spirit of God.
When we consider the Greeks we remember that
Homer always speaks of Pallas, the Goddess of
Wisdom, as " the blue-eyed maid," for is she not the
goddess who teaches the will of Zeus and the truths
of Zeus ? The heroine of almost every fairy tale in
the world is blue-eyed, as a sign that she is the
true, good, and lovable maiden who is the object and
reward of the quest and labour of the prince.
In the epic of the Finns, Ilmater is invoked in these
" Rise up, water-mother,
Raise thy blue cap from the billows."
And this makes us think of Venus rising from the
We must recollect that blue was the colour of the
robes of the Druidic bards. The bards were men
who had been " ovates " and had worn the green.
They were still to retain in themselves all that was
meant by the green, but blue is symbolically a higher
colour, even as it is physically.
Many people think that red would have been a
better colour for the bards, because this symbolises
the enthusiasm that is so necessary in song and
poetry; but the bards were to have more than
enthusiasm they were to have the gift of looking
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLUE 33
beyond the world and of obtaining great Truths to
uplift humanity. They were to be Masters of
Wisdom. They were to get beyond mere passion
and look into the cooler, calmer regions beyond,
whence they could draw these great and deep truths.
It makes us think instinctively of Wordsworth's
definition of poetry as " Passion recollected in tran-
From the great Triads of the Druids we learn the
duties of the bards :
1. To make a country habitable.
2. To civilise the people.
3. To promote science.
Blake had the same belief in the duty of a poet,
which he expresses very beautifully :
" I will not cease from mental strife
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land."
The work and duty, as given in the first two parts
of the Triad, recalls J. Russell Lowell's wonderful
" He who would be the tongue of this wide world
Must string his harp with cords of banded iron
And strike it with a toil-embrowned hand."
In our own time, Maurice Maeterlinck has written
a little play called The Blue Bird. The playbills tell
us that the quest of the Blue Bird is the quest for
happiness, but it seems to be far more than this. A
34 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
bird often symbolises spirit. Thus the quest of the
Blue Bird is really the quest for spiritual truths. 1
The children in their journey first appeal to their
dead grandparents for the bird. By this Maeterlinck
means us to ask ourselves whether the past was able
to know Truth, and the fact that the children do not
find the bird there shows us that Maeterlinck thinks
Truth is of the future.
Still, the children have grown by appealing to the
past, as is shown when the grandparents measure the
children against the door. They have also another
great fact to learn that there are no dead.
Next the children ask the Trees if they have the
Blue Bird. These Trees, who think they are the
rightful custodians of the Blue Bird, and resent the
intrusion of the children, represent the persecuting
churches of the world who have become stereotyped
and hate progress. So the children are in great
danger and are only saved when the dog (or human
common sense) bursts his bonds and Fairy Light comes
to the rescue.
The children never find the Blue Bird, for is it
possible to obtain universal Truth and put it in a
cage ? When a man says vaingloriously that he has
all Truth, it is a sign that he is very far from his
statement. Still Mytyl and Tyltyl are better children
for going on their journey, showing that it is the quest
that is the great thing.
1 See Henry Rose, The Blue Bird.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLUE 35
Blue in its lowest meaning signifies depression and
despair. We have such expressions as "a fit of the
blues." Or again it may mean hardness, coldness, or
cruelty, even, as in such an expression as " steel-blue
eyes" or "Bluebeard." A blue-stocking means
someone who has cultivated intellect and left out
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF PURPLE
" And they put upon him a robe of purple." ST JOHN.
THE next and highest colour of the spectrum is violet.
Like green and blue, it is calming and soothing in its
influence. Like green and blue, it is said by the
mystics to be a feminine colour. It seems as though
the ancient people used the term purple to include
violet, and in fact any tint made up of blue and red
in whatever proportions. Pliny tells us that the
colour of the amaranth is a far more beautiful purple
that any the dyers can obtain. This, however, does
not help us much, for the amaranth can be almost any
shade from red to blue. Even to-day we see how
carelessly the word purple is used when we have
in a great writer's book the phrase, "the purple
The symbolism of purple partakes of the Red of
Love and Self-sacrifice and the blue of Truth ; hence
it was considered symbolic of Wisdom, and is men-
tioned as being the colour of the canopy 1 of Solomon's
chariot. Purple was considered the most glorious of
1 Song of Solomon iii. 10.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF PURPLE 37
colours, for the purple dye was so costly that it
became part of the insignia of royalty. In England
it is used as the sign of royal mourning.
Before we really comprehend the symbolism of
purple, however, we must reflect that purple was said
by the Egyptians to be the colour of the earth. At
evening, in some parts of the world, looking across
the ploughed fields that seem so red in the daylight,
we see that they appear tinged with purple. Our
painters of landscape show this purple colour, while
our poets speak of purple shadows.
Thus the colour became symbolic of the basic
qualities in our nature that form a sure foundation
on which to build the very highest qualities patience,
endurance, perseverance, ability to be long suffering
and slow to anger. All these qualities are a sine
qua non to the evolved soul. This is why the
suffering Christ was given a purple robe before His
crucifixion. It is to show that the King of kings is
also the lowliest and most gentle of all beings that
He had such humility as was expressed in the washing
of the disciples' feet. As He Himself said : " He who
would be the chief among you, let him be your servant."
How we think here of the humble, fragrant violet.
We remember the story of Sir Gareth in the
Idylls of the King.
" And Gareth bowed himself
With all obedience to the king, and wrought
All kind of service with a noble ease
That graced the lowest act in doing it."
38 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
The Egyptians often made their soldiers talismans
of amethyst because they said that this stone could
give them the necessary calmness of mind to ensure
victory. The Magi of Persia said that amethyst was
born of the Sun and of the Moon, which confirms us
in the belief that purple has all the symbolism of
the red and of the blue, the masculine and feminine
forces, the spirit and the soul. It evidently seems to
have been used in this way by the Finns, for in the
" Kalevala," Wainomoinem sails over the " blue back
of the waters" till he "gains the purple-coloured
harbour" of the next world. Here purple is used
of a greater realm than that of the ocean.
Many old rosaries were made of amethyst, because
its effect was to make the wearer withdraw from all
the trials of the world and worship in a holy calm.
In King's Ancient Gnostic Gems we are given a
translation of a poem by Marbodus :
" On high the amethyst is set
In colour like the violet,
With flames as if of gold it shows
And far it purple radiance throws ;
The humble heart it signifies
Of him, who in the Saviour dies."
So we see why the martyrs are often represented
as being clad in purple. This ability to endure for
the truth brings them the fullest reward in the love
of the Saviour.
When we see the angels with purple robes it
signifies that they partake of the sorrows of Christ
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF PURPLE 39
and desire to help men with loving messages to
attain the heavenly home beyond the blue firma-
ment. In some of the ancient orders of nuns the
women wore purple veils as a sign of repentance
and of faith in the divine love of God.
Shakespeare, in A Midsummer Night's Dream,
speaks of the
" Flower of purple dye
Hit with Cupid's archery "
a flower that we now consider to be the pansy, the
name of which is probably derived from " Pensez a
moi," and emblematic of humility and sweet, loving
Purple in its debased meaning gives us over-
weening pride, pomp, and vanity. It is the colour
of the rich man who has no love in his heart for
Lazarus, and no belief in anything but the things
of the world.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF WHITE
" Oh ! what a power has white simplicity." KEATS.
IT is to be remembered in studying ancient colour
symbolism that it was not realised that white was
the sum of the seven colours of the rainbow. To
us, because we know this fact, white is more
naturally the colour of unity than yellow. Thus
" Life like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of eternity."
White, in fact, symbolised not so much unity as
purity, innocence, and the great joy of the man who
has fought the good fight and attained the spiritual
life. It is to symbolise this joy that the souls of
the Redeemed in Revelation are clad in white robes.
For the same reason Dante sees the souls of the
blessed in Paradise in form of a white rose :
" In form then of a white rose
Displayed itself to me the saintly host
Whom Christ in His own blood had made His bride ;
Faces had they all of living flame,
And wings of gold, and all the rest so white,
No snow unto that beauty can attain."
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF WHITE 41
Tennyson, in "St Agnes' Eve," uses white in the
same way to convey the ecstasy of St Agnes:
" Make Thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies."
The Archangel Gabriel is usually known in pictures
from the fact that his emblem is the lily sometimes
called the " lily of the annunciation," as a sign that
a pure soul is necessary before Christ can take
possession of it. Gabriel is usually said to be the
Angel of the Moon, to which the colour white and the
metal silver were given by astrologers and mystics.
It was the custom of Roman ladies to wear white.
The wearing of bright colours was looked upon as
portraying a lack of virtue. The word " candidate "
tells us that integrity was expected of all persons
Hesiod the poet sees Modesty and Justice in
" And those fair forms in snowy raiment bright
Leave the broad earth, and heavenward soar from sight ;
Justice and Modesty, from mortals driven,
Rise to th' immortal family of heaven."
Hermas sees the Church as a virgin in white :
"Behold there met me a certain virgin, well-adorned,
and as if she had just come out of her bride-chamber all
in white, having on white shoes, and a veil down her
face, and her head covered with shining hair. Now, I
knew by my former visions that it was the church."
42 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
The Japanese use white as symbol of death, and a
bride wears white as her parents consider her dead to
them and belonging only to her husband.
In Revelation there is a curious statement: "To
him that overcometh will I give the white stone." It
was the custom to give the victor in the games a white
stone, so that the sentence seems a truism, as "To
him that overcometh will I give the sign of victory " ;
but when we dig more deeply into the meaning
of the white stone we find that it is a sign of deity,
of the Spirit of God marking out His chosen one.
In the Amaravati tope at the British Museum
Buddha is seen sitting on the white stone, and
sometimes the white stone is used in place of
Buddha. In Ireland, until recent times, white stones
were placed in a coffin and called "God's stones."
Hence " To him that overcometh will I give the white
stone" means that to the victor shall be given the
joy of the presence of God, the joy of harmony,
the music of the spheres
" When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy."
There was a similar idea among the Egyptians.
In the papyrus of Ani you will note that when he is
justified he is shown with white hair. Similarly,
Christ in Revelation has hair 1 as white as wool.
In Revelation Christ rides on the white horse.
St George is nearly always depicted on a white
horse. Castor and Pollux were said to ride on
1 Revelation i. 14.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF WHITE 43
white horses. A horse, as I have said before, means
knowledge. Thus to ride on the white horse means
to have all heavenly counsel to aid you in gaining
the victory and in obtaining the reward. It is
said that there will be one more incarnation of
Vishnu, when he will carry the sword of justice
and ride the white horse, like Christ in Revelation.
We must remember that the horse was used l>y
the Hindoos instead of the Ram. Now as Aries
or the Ram is the constellation in which the sun
starts his zodiacal journey each year, the ram or
horse means the opener of new thought, the dawn
of a new era. Hence to ride the white horse means
to begin a new kingdom on earth of joy and happi-
ness and purity. When Mahomet comes again he
will ride the white horse Alborac. In ancient Rome
the white horse was sacred to Jupiter, and once
a year the consul, clad in white robes, rode to the
Capitol to adore Jupiter as the Sun-god.
Buddha is said to have been borne to earth on a
white elephant, i.e. on Divine Wisdom or the Holy
Ghost. In some of the old Buddhist zodiacs the
elephant takes the place of the sign Capricorn or
the goat. Capricorn is the sign governing from
21st December to 19th January, and this is the
time during which all world-saviours are said to
have been born.
Osiris and Zeus are spoken of as white bulls, for
the bull betokens cosmic energy and creative force.
When Yas6dhara dreams that Siddartha or Buddha
44 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
is escaping from the palace, she sees "a white bull
with wide branching horns."
The Druids proper of Wales wore white robes. It
may be mentioned that it took twenty years to train
a Druid, so that surely the white robe in their case
was a sign that the wearer had laboured much and
conquered many things. The work of a Druid is
given in the Triads :
1. To keep his word.
2. To keep his secret.
3. To keep the peace.
It must be remembered that he was a bard
previous to being a Druid. Druidship was the last
stage of initiation, and what he learnt in this was not
to be given out directly to the world but to be
expressed only in the inward power that accrued to
him. He kept the peace because he knew that the
arts flourish in times of peace and are destroyed
during war. Still we must remember that when war
came he was ever ready to lead the people, and many
a Druid died in the forefront of the battle, for to him
death was the gate of life and the entrance to the joy
of the Mighty Hu.
The symbolism of silver is related to that of white,
for silver is the colour of the moon, of chastity, and
the ability to radiate purity and joy, however dark the
night and difficult the circumstances. Artemis and
Diana are both virgin goddesses of the moon, punishing
evil deeds and immorality.
Solomon speaks of the "silver cord." It is the
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF WHITE 45
bond between the mortal and the everlasting : when
it is loosed then the soul is released and regains the
music of the spheres.
Sir Walter Raleigh writes :
" My soul like quiet palmer
Travelleth toward the land of heaven,
Over the silver mountains
Whence spring the nectar fountains."
In the Paradise of the Brahmins, Brahma has his
being in the heart of a silver rose (Tamura Pua) ; that
is, in the heart of all fragrance, sweetness, beauty,
purity, and joy there is God.
In its opposite symbolism white means lack of
courage and sometimes deceitfulness e.g. " whited
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLACK
" Upon all the glory shall be a defence." ISAIAH.
ALTHOUGH science does not now consider black as a
colour, yet it is still considered so by the public and
was considered so by the ancients. To them it was
the colour of mystery and of the mysterious ways
and wisdom of God.
In Egypt, Kneph the Creative Mind was sometimes
addressed as "Thrice unknown darkness transcend-
ing all intellectual perception," for certainly the
wisdom of God is beyond the comprehension of
human intellect. One of our modern mystics, Henry
Vaughan, seems to arrive at the same thought when
he says, "There is in God a deep and dazzling
darkness"; meaning that the mysteries of God are
unfathomable but glorious. Black was considered
the colour of wisdom, and Milton, who is so accurate
in his symbolism, uses it as such :
" Goddess staid and holy,
Whose saintly visage is too bright
To hit the sense of human sight ;
And therefore to our weaker view
O'erlaid with black, staid wisdom's hue."
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLACK 47
Black also symbolised eternity ; thus Night, the
mother of all things, was sometimes portrayed by the
Greeks in a starry veil, holding two children one
white and the other black to symbolise Time and
Eternity. Osiris and also Horus are sometimes
painted white and sometimes black, to show that they
manifested themselves in time though they were
Black also meant silence the things that are not
to be revealed to everyone the thoughts that lie too
deep for tears the innermost and most sacred
experiences of life. It is not that we ought to be
selfish with our knowledge far otherwise :
"Give all thou canst; high heaven rejects the lore
Of nicely-calculated less or more." 1
It is that certain experiences can only be compre-
hended by a person having similar experiences. In
olden times a black rose was used as the symbol of
the silence of an initiate, such a silence as that com-
prehended by St Paul when speaking of the man who
was caught up into heaven and heard 2 unspeakable
things which it is not lawful for any man to utter.
The great promise 3 to every initiate is, " I will give
thee the treasures of darkness."
As the old proverb says, "If you would know
more you must be more." Until then there is a veil 4
1 Wordsworth, "Within King's College Chapel."
2 2 Corinthians xii. 4. 3 Isaiah xlv. 3.
4 Exodus xxxiv. 35.
48 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
and a defence l upon the face of all knowledge. This
is no doubt the meaning of the veil of Isis. This
is the reason why so much of the ancient belief
is wrapped up in symbolism, and why the ancient
pictures are so full of symbols, for in them an initiate
could tell at a glance how much the artist knew of
the inner mysteries ; for example, one often sees the
ornamental broken pavement in ancient pictures.
This was one of the many hints to look well into the
picture and ponder much, for it represented not
historical fact but mystic truth. The almond-shaped
aura or vesica piscis was used in much the same way.
Many pictures of the Ascension of Christ and of the
Assumption of the Virgin contain the vesica piscis to
show that if you did not believe these events to be
historically true yet they are deep truths relating to
the spirit and soul of every man that the spirit and
soul do ascend when their labours are done. The
architects, too, were versed in these hidden truths, so
that we may truly say that our great cathedrals and
churches represent the sum-total of all the architect
knew. They are really "frozen religion." The
ordinary person sees a great and stately edifice but
the initiate sees worlds on worlds unfold.
Black to us of the West is merely the sombre colour
of mourning, a sign that our lives have been bereft
of the joy of the presence of a loved one. It is per-
haps the most depressing of all colours, physically,
mentally, and morally, and surely if people believed
1 Isaiah iv. 5.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BLACK 49
in their religion they would never wear such a colour ;
but unfortunately few people have the courage to go
against custom, and to openly rejoice that their loved
ones are in a better land. We may remember how
the Lady Olivia's grief was reproved by the Clown in
Twelfth Night :
Cloum : Good madonna, why mournest thou 1
Olivia : Good fool, for my brother's death.
Clown : I think his soul is in hell, madonna.
Olivia : I know his soul is in heaven, fool.
Clown : The more fool you, madonna, to mourn for your
brother's soul being in heaven.
Of course black used with other colours often gives
beautiful effects and throws these colours into relief.
It is a most useful decorative colour when used in
moderation, but when totally unrelieved, it is an
abomination. By shutting out the light rays of the
sun it lays the whole system open to disease. In the
human aura it is evidence of the deepest depths of
Black in its lowest symbolism means this wicked-
ness and foulness, and hatred of the light of the
healing sun. The black angels are the evil angels.
Black magic was occult art used for selfish purposes
and very often requiring blood sacrifice, even of human
blood, in the performing of it.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BROWN AND GEEY
" Beauty is never lost,
God's colours are all fast." WHITTIER.
WE next consider the colour brown the symbol of
autumn and decay. The autumn may indeed be a
beautiful season of mellow fruitfulness, and the rich
red-brown hues may delight us, but for all this, the
brown is a sign that the life is surely, though gently,
passing away from the leaves. Yet because the tree
does not die merely because the leaves perish, brown
takes on the meaning of the still quietness that is
necessary before the next period of effort. We have
the expression " to be in a brown study," that is, in a
calm state of mind, oblivious to external facts and
objects for the time being, yet really working out
some deep problem that has to be solved before
physical effort is of any value. There is a softness
and gentleness about brown which calms our restless
Browns and other sombre "useful" colours are
usually tabooed by healers because they tend to
depression. If rest is needed, this is better given by
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF BROWN AND GREY 51
blues and purples since they are quietening in effect.
In ordinary household decoration, golden browns
may be used with the most restful and helpful
In the human aura, however, the presence of much
brown indicates an unprogressed character one who
needs to make his life more spiritual.
Grey eyes are considered by many the best for ex-
pressing tenderness and sadness, but as a rule grey
denotes what is hard and unfeeling. Still there are
such a number of shades of grey that probably this
last meaning is only appropriate to the shades having
much blue in them.
Tennyson writes :
"Break, break, break,
On thy cold grey stories, sea,
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me."
Kingsley writes :
" 'Tis the hard grey weather
Breeds hard Englishmen.
Sends our English hearts of oak
Seaward round the world."
W. S. Gary, in " Heraclitus," writes :
" They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead ;
They brought me bitter news to bear, and bitter tears to
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
52 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales awake,
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take."
W. E. Henley, in his " Song of the Sword," sings :
" Follow, follow me,
Till the waste places
All the grey globe over
Ooze, as the honeycomb
Drops, with the sweetness
Distilled of my strength."
Again we must contrast this modern symbolism
with the ancient. Grey was the union of black and
white, and so partook of the symbolism of each.
Christ in grey robes was not a cheerless Christ.
His grey robes symbolised resurrection the triumph
of life over death ; they symbolise the joy of white
over the despair of black, of the joy of knowledge of
future and everlasting life over the dark, inscrut-
able ways of apparent death.
The grey friars wore grey robes to portray Christ
risen, still alive and working for the people of earth.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF THE RAINBOW
" Be thou the rainbow to the storms of life." BYRON.
WE have come to the end of our survey of the inner
meanings of separate colours, showing us how " The
invisible things of God from the creation of the world
are clearly seen, being understood by the things which
are made." l
However, we should not properly complete our task
if we did not consider the rainbow and the deep
symbolic meaning attached to it. Since every ray
gives out some great truth and blessing, the rainbow
stood for all blessing, the sign of the presence of
God's love. In Greece, Iris (who is sometimes regarded
as the rainbow itself, or a goddess clothed with the
rainbow, or dwelling in the rainbow, or making a rain-
bow path to earth) is the messenger of the gods. She
is not mentioned in the Odyssey but very often in the
Iliad. She has some of the functions of Hermes, but
unlike Hermes has little or nothing to do with the
pale realms of Pluto. She is generally looked upon as
Juno's chief messenger, and confers blessings on those
whom Juno loves.
1 Romans i. 20.
54 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
In the jEneid, book iv., we have a beautiful descrip-
tion of Iris coming to release the suffering soul of
Dido, the luckless Queen of Carthage :
" Then Juno, pitying her agony
Of lingering death, sent Iris down with speed
Her struggling soul from clinging limbs to free.
So down to earth came Iris from on high
On saffron wings all glittering with the dew.
A thousand tints against the sunlit sky
She flashed from out her rainbow as she flew."
The Scandinavians believed that on the rainbow
arch the souls of the heroes were able to march in
triumph to the great wassail in Valhalla. Curiously
enough this rainbow is spoken of as " treble-hued."
It would be interesting to know which three main
colours of the rainbow they thought of.
" Over all swept the magnificent arch of Bifrost, 1 the treble-
hued rainbow, and Odin turned and said : ' See, children,
how Bifrost bids us climb yet higher, humbly to learn of
the holy Nornir (the Fates) and drink in wisdom from the
fountain of Urd (Norn of the Past). Let us mount and
ride.' And the glorious procession took its way across the
plain to the luminous trembling end of the bridge, where
golden-toothed Heimdal (the sleepless guardian of Bifrost)
stood on guard. With a smile of welcome he threw open
the gate, and they swept proudly on, singing a song of
joyous thanksgiving for the beauty and peace of all around
them ; but, when great Thor would have set his foot on the
bridge, Heimdal barred the way with his spear." 2
1 Bif-rost the wave-rest, i.e. the resting place of the waves.
2 Asgard. K. F. Boult.
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF THE RAINBOW 55
So of all the gods Thor might not tread the rain-
bow; still, he was allowed to make his journey into
the council of the gods by other paths.
The rainbow is said to have been given to Noah as
a sign that there should be no more flood or no more
sea of trouble, for the sea or the salt water stands
mystically for the troubles, the trials, and the suffering
which the soul has to surmount before it receives
blessing and peace. How this makes us think of the
meaning of Bifrost. The promise that there shall be
no more sea does not stand for the drying-up of actual
oceans but is a promise given to every true navigator
of the soul such as Noah was if only the ark or soul
is constructed according to divine instructions and has
its little window above into which light may shine.
In the " Kalevala," Wainomoinem builds a magic
boat, but forgets the last three words of his enchant-
ment, and so he cannot complete the boat. He journeys
over the whole world to find these words, and when
he does eventually find them he finishes the boat and
gives it as a dowry to the Maid of Beauty :
" Sitting on the arch of heaven
On the bow of many colours."
Among the Peruvians the rainbow was worshipped
under the name of Chucychu.
Ezekiel 1 sees the rainbow beautiful and bright
around his vision of God and the Cherubim. St John 2
also has a vision of Christ manifesting within a
1 Ezekiel i. 28. 2 Revelation iv. 3.
56 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
We should naturally expect from the above that
the opal should have much the same meaning as the
rainbow. We certainly do find that in the East it
was considered a most sacred stone, and it was said
to contain the Spirit of Truth.
The Greeks were probably responsible for our
belief that it brings ill-luck in love affairs; but we
must remember that they considered it capable of
giving the gift of prophecy, provided that the gift
was used for the benefit of others. If this was not
so, then bad fortune came to the seer.
Joseph's coat of many colours has been said to have
been a sign of all-blessing, but we must remember
that there is considerable doubt concerning the con-
text of this passage. Still we do know that in many
nations certain variously coloured garments have been
considered garments of honour. Thus the ancient Irish
bards had robes striped with the following colours as
a sign of their noble and honourable calling white,
blue, green, black, and red.
Modern symbolism speaks in very beautiful language
of the fact that the seven rays of the spectrum give
white light, but we must remember that this sym-
bolism is essentially modern. Thus, as I have said
previously, white represents unity ; while to the
ancients, yellow, the sun colour, was the colour of
unity. The seven rays have been likened to the seven
gifts of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes they are
likened to the Elohim.
In the spectrum we have three main rays, some-
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF THE RAINBOW 57
times given as red, yellow, and blue, and sometimes as
red, green, and blue. These are said mystically to
stand for the Trinity or God in Three that is, God
in manifestation; while the white ray would repre-
sent God in Unity or the One Supreme Cause God
Unmanif est God ever changeless.
Sometimes the seven rays are likened to the various
ways and methods of approach to spiritual vision, for
few people receive this vision in the same way or
under the same conditions. Some people receive
inspiration through work, others in quiet meditation,
or by concentrating their energies on some great
truth. Thus the Zoroastrians and Parsees have con-
centrated on the virtue of Purity, and they realise
that all that is unclean, whether of the body or of the
soul, is forever separate from God. This is a great
and basic truth that must be enshrined in the heart
of every worshipper :
" Blessed are the pure in heart : for they shall see God "
a wonderful promise, hardly to be comprehended
except by the saints, the seers, and the exalted ones.
Then the Buddhists lay stress on the Brotherhood
of Man, and so charity and the virtue of giving
willingly and freely has been exalted to one of
supreme importance in India.
The Christians lay stress on the Love of God the
highest conception so far ; but one that must include
the other truths or it becomes degraded and debasing,
as in the belief of the person who holds that the
58 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
more wickedly he lives, the more God will have to
forgive, and therefore the more love God will have
So all Truths are necessary in order to form the
white ray. As James Russell Lowell says :
" God sends His teachers into every land,
To every clime and every race of men,
With revelation fitted for their growth
And shape of mind, nor gives the realm of Truth
Into the keeping of one single race.
All nations have their message from on high,
Each the Messiah of some central thought
For the fulfilment and delight of man ;
One has to teach that Labour is divine,
Another Freedom and another Mind ;
And all, that God is open-eyed and just,
The happy centre and calm heart of all."
This wonderful study of symbolism sheds new light
on many old customs and myths. From it, we are
able to penetrate to the heart of things, and to see
that every nation has aspired earnestly to understand
the universe, and to realise that the Creator is mani-
fest in His works.
Unfortunately the modern world in its haste has
for many generations cast aside this desire to know
more deeply these inner truths. The Puritan saw
that symbolism had degenerated into image-worship
and into corrupt and unworthy practices, and so his
mission was to destroy this dragon of false priests
and to give simplicity and reality. Almost too well
THE OLD LANGUAGE OF THE RAINBOW 59
he seems to the artist-minds to have done his work,
but we must remember that it was an age of "No
Now, however, there seem to be signs all over the
world that people would once again love to have
these beautiful symbols, for just as the mathematician
can reach greater truths by means of his symbols, so
the mystic by his can attain to the highest realms of
ecstasy. He becomes one of the uplifting forces of
the world ; one who gives light. His eyes and face
reveal the inward light, and so he becomes a star.
Mere knowledge, mere intellect, without the inner
vision, never makes the star soul " He whose face
gives no light can never become a star." To such a
one the object can never enslave. He has become, as
the Hindoos say, " A King of the Zodiac " ; that is, he
has learnt all his lessons, journeyed through the
twelve great constellations, performed his appointed
labours, and is able to receive the great reward. What
is the great reward ? To see the spiritual significance
burn through from all the objects of Nature and so to
obtain communion with the Maker, and thus enter into
the golden yellow petals of the Eternal Eose.
You ask me lastly why I think it is that the
nations should agree so well in choosing the inner
meanings of colours. It seems to me that in olden
times the gift of being able to see the human aura
was one well known to the prophets and seers. Now,
once a person has this gift it is very easy to connect
the type of person exhaling the aura with particular
60 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
qualities. When another aura is seen containing one
of the same colours the quality it shows would ever
after be connected with that colour, and so there
would grow up a colour symbolism differing little all
over the world. Many of the most successful colour
healers of to-day see the human aura, and according
to the beauty of the colours they see the beauty of
the Mind, and according to the lack of beautiful
coloration they see illness and wrong-doing. Still
it must be borne in mind that the wrong-doer even
in health cannot attain so beautiful or refined an
aura as the good man. In sickness the colours of
the latter are greyish in value, whereas the colours
of the evil man are muddy-looking.
It is indeed a great subject, proving that the
physicians of the future must minister to the soul as
well as the body. The world awaits them.
SCHOOLS OF COLOUR (p. 25)
IN these ancient schools of colour the students of seership
concentrated for, sometimes, years on the truths coming to
them from a given colour. Of the Persian Sufis there are
said to have been four colours :
1. Gold School. Where all the beauty and majesty of
the inner symbolism of the sun colour was to
glorify their souls.
2. Green School. Where they learnt of immortality,
and the need of ever serving the Maker.
3. Black School. Where they pondered on the mysteries
of God and learnt wisdom thereby.
4. White School. Where as full initiates they knew the
joy of God.
There have also been rosaries of symbolic colours. Roses
and prayers seem to have some connection in nearly all
great religions, hence the colour of the rose was to denote a
prayer or deep desire for the quality symbolised by the rose.
62 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
THE COLOURS OF THE PLANETS (p. 25)
THIS is a subject on which research gives variable results.
In recent years Mr. Alan Leo, perhaps the greatest modern
exponent of astrology, assigned the following colours to the
Sun .... orange
Moon . . . violet
Mercury . . . yellow
Venus . . . blue
Mars .... red
Jupiter . . . indigo
Saturn . . . green
A list perhaps more in harmony with the ancient beliefs
is the one given below :
Sun . . yellow or gold
Moon . white or silver
Mercury . green
Venus . blue (turquoise or lapis lazuli)
Mars . . red
Jupiter . purple (or lapis lazuli)
Saturn . black (sometimes black witb orange flecks).
Saturn, it may be said, is the planet of mystery and the
mysterious ways of God. He is like the god Chronos or the
Angel Oriphel ; he makes the person wait till his appointed
hour before gifts are given. Still, as he often, by means
of waiting and suffering, causes the person to develop some
of the very highest gifts, he is sometimes given the yellow
Minnie Theobald, in an explanation of a Passion play
entitled The Descent of the Light Spark, writes on the colours
worn by the Planets in her play. I quote at some length :
" These seven principles are represented in my drama as the
seven planets, which in the ancient mode of consciousness typi-
fied different modes of consciousness and substance. . . . Neptune
and Uranus are the two planets of regeneration and rebirth, they
are connected with cosmic consciousness ; and so in the colour
scheme either iridescence or all colour must be present to indi-
cate their connection with wholeness. . . . Red typifies life and
consciousness, and suggests the power of the Father, the Lord of
Fire, reappearing in the lower worlds. Blue indicates the
mother element or the substance into which life enters ; yellow
stands for the personality or child. Colour is language; any
planet may be represented by any colour; it depends upon the
particular activity of the particular planetary spirit to be por-
trayed. In this drama Mercury or Memory, the messenger be-
tween Time and Eternity, wears red, for he is carrying life and
consciousness down to the cross of matter. He is the represen-
tative in the lower regions of the Light Spark ; he is the flame
hidden within each one of us, giving us memory of our divine
origin. Next comes Venus, our fundamental soul-substance, the
medium between the ego and personal mind ; she is clad in blue.
Jupiter, personal mind, follows next, clad in yellow. Then we
have Mars. Our soul-substance, blue, has become mingled with
personal mind, yellow, and so we get green. Red, cosmic life
becomes green, personal life, for after the birth of the personal
mind everything becomes reversed. Our personal life-current is
the complementary mode of activity to the crucified cosmic life-
current. This personal life and passion is the field of activity
of Mars, and so shows his complementary colour, green. Finally,
black or Saturn marks the limit of the fall. Here we have the
negation of the life of Eternity, black or dense matter being the
inversion of the pure white light of spirit."
This last quotation will show how modern mysticism
THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
CHROMATICS OF THE SKY. By J. S. DYASON (p. 4)
The following is a tabulation of his observations :
Copper at sunset
Grey in the morning
A high dawn
A low dawn
presages wind or rain.
wind or rain.
wind or rain.
YELLOW (p. 15)
YELLOW is still a non-canonical colour in the church.
Blue is also non-canonical.
The five canonical colours are (1) white used at Easter,
Christmas, Circumcision, and Epiphany ; (2) red at Exalta-
tion and Invention of Cross, Pentecost, and Feasts of
Martyrs ; (3) violet on Ash Wednesday, Lent, Septuagesima,
Quinquagesima, and Advent ; (4) black on Good Friday ;
(5) green on ordinary Sundays and week days.
COLOUR AND FORM (p. 4)
SINCE colour is vibration, it is easy to see that it must
also give form. Some of the most beautiful designs in the
world have been produced by vibration. In his great book
on Colour, Babbit takes red, yellow, and blue and gives
them the forms of the triangle, the hexagon, and the circle.
The triangle has the sharpest corners, thus it is appro-
priate to the energising fiery red. The circle, with no
corners, represents the calm indwelling blue j and the yellow,
which has energy and yet peace, partakes of the hexagon,
which still has angles but yet approaches the shape of the
APPENDIX VI (p. 4)
M. CAMILLE FLAMMARION has made many interesting
experiments on the growth of plants under different
coloured rays. In one experiment he took young lettuces
from the same plot of ground, and all the same size. His
results showed that
Under red glass lettuce grows four times as quickly as in
green slightly quicker than in
blue becomes very stunted.
In another experiment he worked with Indian corn.
In sunlight one plant grew to 25 inches.
Under red glass 18
Beans flourished under white and red glass.
perished green blue
66 THE SYMBOLISM OF COLOUR
From the above it seems that blue glass is bad for
plants ; but this is not always so, as is seen from the experi-
ments of General Pleasanton, where he grew the best grapes
in his district by using alternate white and blue glass in
his greenhouses. Babbit states that blue light develops
germination of plants, while red and yellow develop
animalculse. Yellow rays cause carbon to deposit from
the air, and so form the woody fibre of plants. Red and
yellow cause seeding and fruitage.
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